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Metz Railway Station: A Monument through Time

Portrait of a station
The present Metz railway station, fourth of that name, in 1908 SNCF - SARDO- National Archives ©All Rights Reserved
The present Metz railway station, fourth of that name, in 1908 SNCF - SARDO- National Archives ©All Rights Reserved

With its 290-metre length, 40-metre height and a total area of 10,000 square metres, Metz railway station boasts some impressive volumes. But that’s not all. The station’s uniqueness also lies in its rich history and stunning details.

The third Metz railway station in 1874 SNCF - SARDO- National Archives ©All Rights Reserved
The third Metz railway station in 1874 SNCF - SARDO- National Archives ©All Rights Reserved

The present Metz railway station is the fourth of that name and in no way resembles the first building, through which Napoleon III entered the city in August 1850. That earliest small terminal, made entirely of timber, was replaced by a vast railway station designed by the German architect Jürgen Kröger.

A station designed for an emperor

Drawing of the vestibule leading to the imperial apartments, 1905 © SNCF

The initial design of the station had to be adjusted to meet Kaiser Wilhelm’s II requirements, who imposed the Rhenish Romanesque Revival style on the architect. Capitals of varied patterns, decorations telling of colonial expansion and transport history, sculptures praising the power of the German Empire, stained-glass windows depicting imperial figures and symbols: Metz-Ville was far more than just a station ― it was the result of German propaganda aimed at justifying the imperial power over the Alsace-Lorraine Region, and of the Kaiser’s marked desire to Germanize the area. On their visits to Metz, the Kaiser and his wife had their own private apartments within the station. It is even said that the clock tower was designed by the Kaiser himself. The present Charlemagne reception hall, located on the upper level of the platforms, was then accessed via a monumental staircase. A heavy portal made of finely crafted wood and guarded by two fierce-looking stone lions led to the imperial apartments.

Stained-glass window depicting Charlemagne © SNCF-AREP Photo by Laure Lalubie - Reunion scene on the station’s capital © SNCF-AREP Photo by Laure Lalubie – Locomotive representation on the capital © SNCF-AREP Photo by Laure Lalubie

When post-war criticism...

War symbolism is also reflected in the impressive dimensions of the building, constructed to accommodate the army (the “buffet” seated 1350 people) and ensure that soldiers could move smoothly through the vast hall, whose glass roof allowed for natural light. The huge station forecourt served as a stop for troops in transit and army officers seeking an accommodation in the nearby hotels, while the streets radiating from this central point made it easy for soldiers to find their way to one of the barracks. Some signs of the German imperialism (statues, coats of arms representing German soldiers, the imperial eagle) were dismantled or altered in the decades after the First World War. The modernization projects launched in the 1970s and the redevelopment of the site and its surroundings before the arrival of the high-speed rail link shaped the station into its current form.  

Departure hall in 1977 © SNCF

...gives way to local pride

Listed as a historic monument in 1975, the train station stands as a witness to history still in the making. In 2017, Metz-Ville was voted as the most beautiful train station in France by users. Today, it forms part of the local authorities’ project to obtain the Unesco World Heritage status for the city. In any case, the odds are that its concrete structure, stone facades and heavy timber portals opening up to the vast hall will keep featuring on postcards.

Departure hall in 2012 © SNCF-AREP Photo by Mathieu Lee Vigneau

Key dates

1901: A total of 19 architectural proposals vied for the construction of the new station. The project by German architect Jürgen Kröger, called “Light and Air”, won the competition.

17 August 1908: Inauguration of the present station. It was the fourth station built in Metz, where trains arrived for the first time in 1850.

1918-1950: The station underwent its first major transformations. During this period, the Alsace-Lorraine rail network returned to France and some signs of the German imperialism were dismantled. Parts of the building were restored after the Second World War.

1954: Rail electrification and demolition of the small train shed

15 January 1975: Metz railway station is listed as a historic monument

2004: Arrival of the high-speed rail link (TGV Est)

 

*This article is from AREP’s Heritage Division document collection

* Written by Damien Guillou, based on texts and studies by Claude Le Breton, an architect at AREP’s Railway Heritage division who has been carrying out studies on railway stations and other rail facilities for the past 20 years.